Karren Brady has proven herself a million times over as being an incredible business woman. A piece of paper means nothing. I'm in the position of coming out of a masters degree right now and employers aren't even looking for the piece of paper that qualifies me to do the job, its all practical experience which having been in uni for 4 years no-one has. I wish I'd taken her route at 18.
The jobs I want do require a degree, which I don't have. But you're absolutely bang on about practical experience being absolutely vital.